Wednesday, March 17, 2010

DBTL 77: The Little Finish

Klaipeda, Lithuanian Devo, Polish Commonwealth
15 January 2001

There is a man with two names. The name by which he is known to his co-workers and his family does not concern us. All we need to know about him is that when he appears on the commercial transweb provider Poland Online, it is under the screen name Candyman45.

Candyman sits in an office in a modest three-bedroom house in Klaipeda. His chair faces a desk which accommodates an inexpensive personal talos. The walls hold prints by M.C. Escher, astronomical posters, and a map of the world. Around him are shelves full of an eclectic mix of books. Some are history: The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman, 1937 by George Orwell, Empire of the Atom by Stefan Kieniewicz. Some are historical fiction: With Fire and Sword by Henryk Sienkiewicz, Piłsudski by Witold Gombrowicz, The Right Stuff by Stanisław Lem. Some are science fiction: The Sound of His Wings by Robert A. Heinlein, Enemy Mine by Richard Wright, Refugee by Anne Frank.

As Candyman's talos wakes itself, he ponders a request from his wife. She knows of his hobby of creating uchronias, and she has asked him to design a world where Josef Stalin drowned at birth. This places the Branch Point, or BP, in 1879. However, except for rare cases like Queen Elizabeth I of England, people tend not to make an immediate impact on world history as soon as they are born.

So it is with Stalin. Initially the changes are invisibly small. There is one less child growing up in Gori, one less rebellious seminary student in Tiflis. As late as the Russian Revolution and Civil War, the changes are minor: someone else edits Pravda, someone else is Nationalities Commissar, someone else accompanies Budenny into southern Poland, someone else is General Secretary of the Central Committee.

Now the differences are becoming noticeable on a large scale. Whoever is now General Secretary (Kamenev? Bukharin? Surely not Trotsky!) may well not use the position to create a personal following among the Party hierarchy as Stalin did. Conventional wisdom is that Trotsky would have succeeded Lenin were it not for Stalin's machinations, but Candyman is minded of some chains on the uchronia group he frequents that bring this into question. Trotsky was viewed with deep suspicion by the rest of the Bolsheviks, and a power struggle leading to his eventual ouster may have been inevitable, unless Trotsky used his position as War Commissar to eliminate the other Bolsheviks and make himself military dictator of the USSR.

For the sake of contrariness, assume that Trotsky loses the power struggle and is expelled from the Party. With Trotsky gone, the glue holding the rest of the Bolsheviks together is gone also, and infighting begins.

The talos is fully awake, and Candyman brings up a composition portal. He also brings up the Poland Online portal and connects to the provider. A few clicks on the cat and he can hear a transweb feed from a Classic Klez station in Kiev. With Piast Aeroplane pouring from the talos's speakers, Candyman clicks his way to the Encyclopedia Rzeczpospolita node and queries the entry on Stalin. He notes the date of the dictator's birth.

Returning to the composition portal, Candyman begins to type:

21 December 1879
Gori, Georgia, Russian Empire

Ekaterina Djugashvili is shocked and dismayed to learn that her newborn child Josef has accidentally drowned while being washed by the midwife. Ekaterina has now lost a total of four children in infancy. She suffers a mental breakdown, becomes terminally depressed, and dies a month after baby Josef . . .

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